Though the national museum of Rwanda (today’s Ethnographic Museum) was only established in 1989, the country’s network of compelling museums has expanded rapidly since then, and today there are six sites all across the country administered by the Institute of National Museums (www.museum.gov.rw). From ethnography to environment and art to architecture, the national museums of Rwanda are among the finest in East Africa, and with locations around the country, it’s easy to fit at least one of these fascinating spots into any Rwanda itinerary.
Ethnographic Museum (Huye) : Rwanda’s first museum, this beautiful space sits in wide, tranquil gardens at the edge of Huye city and was built here in 1989. It covers an impressive array of topics on almost anything about Rwanda you can imagine: banana beer, basketry, geology, cosmology, farming, cattle, music, dance, poetry, history, tools, and transport are all profiled here, and there’s a highly regarded craft centre on site as well. If you see one museum in Rwanda, this should be it.
National Art Gallery (Nyanza) : Set in a wide colonial building atop the gorgeous Rwesero Hill and just outside the small agricultural town of Nyanza, the National Art Gallery is a fantastic surprise—it’s not very often you find such a cultivated selection of artwork on a lovely green hilltop out in the countryside! Still, here it is, and it has been showcasing both traditional and contemporary Rwandan artists for nearly a decade now. They host a variety of rotating temporary exhibitions as well, and many international artists have exhibited here.
King’s Palace Museum (Nyanza) : On another fantastic hilltop just opposite the National Art Gallery, this is the former palace of King Mutara III (also known as Rudahigwa), who built his palace here in the 1930’s. Today, visitors can tour an impressive and historically accurate reconstruction of the royal compound and marvel at the intricacies of the traditional architecture. A colonial building which was also used as the palace for a time sits next door and contains a series of exhibits on the monarchy and court customs that history buffs won’t want to miss.
Presidential Palace Museum (Kigali) : While today it’s no longer home to any presidents, both Juvenal Habyarimana and Pasteur Bizimungu called this home for almost three decades from the 1970’s to the year 2000. Today, it’s a fascinating window into Rwanda’s modern history, and the remains of President Habyarimana’s plane, shot down in 1994 just before the genocide, can be seen in chunks on the lawn. There are whole rooms of preserved presidential furnishings, and cultural exhibits as well.
Natural History Museum (Kigali) : In a 1900’s building named for Richard Kandt, the German naturalist and once-governor of Rwanda, this new museum sits in a leafy garden with impressive views over Kigali. Inside you’ll find a number of historical exhibits and photographs of the early settlement of Kigali, along with numerous displays on Rwanda’s endemic species of flora and fauna, as well as information on the physical and geological history of the country. Relics from the German – British battles of WWI that took place in Rwanda are also to be found here.
Museum of the Environment (Karongi) : Scheduled to open any day now, Karongi’s eagerly anticipated Museum of the Environment is set to be the only museum of its kind anywhere on the African continent. Focusing on the Rwandan climate and environment, the museum will feature a rooftop garden of medicinal plants, and a number of exhibits on Rwandan resources, including energy and its production. Visitors will also gain an understanding of climate change and its impacts, and what we, no matter what country we live in, can do to mitigate its negative effects.